How are names chosen? At the advent of naming storms, all hurricanes were female. Male names weren't integrated into the list of Mother Nature's fury until 1978, and not until the following year for Atlantic storms. And despite the ungodly wrath that hurricanes can unleash, the earliest hurricane naming system -- dating back hundreds of years in the West Indies -- used saints' names, coinciding with the feast day on which the hurricane hit.
In the current naming system, all letters are used, alphabetically, except for Q, U and Z. Atlantic Ocean hurricanes get English, French or Spanish names in a nod to the countries bordering the ocean. The WMO now uses six lists of hurricane names that are rotated. When a storm causes particular suffering, that name is retired and another one added at the WMO's annual meeting. You may easily recognize the disaster associated with some of the retired names: Andrew, Hugo, Camille, Katrina.
If more than 21 named storms rip through the Atlantic in one season, the list goes Greek: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and down the alphabet. The names lined up for 2012 are:
The list for the Eastern Northern Pacific storms -- for example, hurricanes that threaten Mexico -- for 2012 is:
Here's the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook from the National Weather Service:
"NOAA’s 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook indicates that a near-normal season is most likely. The outlook calls for a 50% chance of a near-normal season, a 25% chance of an above normal season, and a 25% chance of a below-normal season. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
This outlook reflects the possibility of competing climate factors, combined with several circulation and sea surface temperature (SST) features that suggest a less active season compared to many in recent years. Favoring an above-normal season is the ongoing conditions that have been associated with increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, combined with expected near-average SSTs across much of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea (called the Main Development Region, or MDR).
A potentially competing climate factor is the possible development of El Niño during the season. If El Niño develops, it could make conditions less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months (August-October) of the season, thus shifting the activity toward the lower end of the predicted range.
If they persist, two other factors that are now present could also compete with conditions associated with the high-activity era. These are: 1) Enhanced vertical wind shear across the MDR, and 2) Cooler-than-average SSTs in the far eastern tropical Atlantic.
Given the current and expected conditions, combined with model forecasts and possible competing factors, we estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity during 2012:
- 9-15 Named Storms,
- 4-8 Hurricanes
- 1-3 Major Hurricanes
- An Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) range of 65%-140% of the median.